Your Feedback Please

Today is the last day of 2007. New Year’s is always an occasion for looking back to reflect and then looking forward to the coming year. So I thought this would be a good time for me to pause and evaluate my blog.

I saw a big jump in readership this year, and it’s been a fun challenge for me to keep the blog interesting enough for readers to keep coming back. I’ve tried to focus mostly on topics related to illustration, cartooning, and freelancing, but my goal of posting something new every weekday has forced me to zig and zag a bit as I try to figure out what works and what doesn’t. I’ve posted a mixture of personal sketches, freelance work, tips on the freelancing biz, reviews of products and books, interesting links, an occasional mindless distraction, and a few opinions and thoughts totally unrelated to art. This year I also took a character design class from Stephen Silver at Schoolism.com, and I received a lot of positive feedback from posting my assignments. I also gave the blog a new look, added a Tip Jar, and created a Recommended Resources page that links to Amazon.com.

I want to make the blog even better for 2008, so I’m asking you my readers to give me your thoughts. What have you especially liked? Did anything bug you, or worse, bore you? Is there anything you really liked and would like to see more of? I’m not fishing for compliments–I figure this must be a pretty decent blog, otherwise you wouldn’t keep coming back–but I am genuinely interested in getting some overall feedback, suggestions, and constructive criticism on how I can make it even better.

So please leave me a comment and let me know what you think. Every comment will get read, and I won’t delete anything unless it is obviously a “spam” comment. Feel free to post anonymously if you’d like. (Hint: For those of you who read but never comment, this would be a perfect opportunity to stick your toe in the water.)

A very happy new year to one and all!

“Citizen Kane” Sketches

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One of the gifts I received this Christmas was a two-disc special edition DVD of Citizen Kane. Many movie buffs consider it to be one of the greatest films, if not the greatest film, ever made, so about two years ago my wife and I decided to rent it and educate ourselves (actually, I really wanted to see the movie and she graciously went along). While the pacing is a little slow in spots, it’s a great film that has really grown on me. It’s probably one of my top-ten favorite movies.

In 1941 the gifted wonder-kid Orson Welles co-wrote, directed, produced, and starred in Citizen Kane at the tender young age of 26! The movie tells the fictional story of Charles Foster Kane, a powerful multi-millionaire, newspaper mogul, and would-be politician. The film is allegedly inspired by the real life of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst, and many key events in the film mirror Hearst’s own life. Much of it is less-than-flattering. Hearst tried everything he could to get the film destroyed before it could be released into theaters. He attempted to buy the original print so it could be burned, and attacked Orson Welles’ career and reputation. Hearst couldn’t stop the film from being released but he did strike fatal blows to the career of the brash but talented young filmmaker. Welles never again approached anything near the success of Citizen Kane. It has been said that Orson Welles started at the top and worked his way down.

The first disc of the DVD set includes two audio commentaries. One is by film critic Roger Ebert, and it is one of the most informative and fascinating audio commentaries I have ever heard. The second disc contains a two-hour documentary entitled “The Battle Over Citizen Kane”, which chronicles the dramatic behind-the-scenes battle that raged between Welles and Hearst.

From an artistic standpoint, what makes the film so impressive is not just the intriguing story but the dramatic visuals. Long before computers, green screens, or even color (the film is black-and-white), Hollywood directors had to rely heavily on simple tools like composition and lighting to keep their images interesting. Welles had a masterful eye, and Citizen Kane makes great use of powerful compositions, stark lighting, deep focus, and dramatic camera angles. Great stuff for sketching and study!

I’m busy working on a large client project and can’t post any current artwork. So here’s a few pen-and-ink studies from the film I did almost two years ago when I first rented it. It’s a mish-mash of main characters and background extras with interesting faces. I posted these on my blog way back when I first drew them, so some of my long-time blog readers might recognize them.

I promise to post more new artwork as soon as I can! In the mean time, if you want to watch a good flick and then do some fun sketching, I highly recommend renting Citizen Kane.

Perspective “Cheat Sheets” for Comic Book Artists

One of the wonderful things about drawing is that it allows you to create the illusion of a three-dimensional space on a flat, two-dimensonal piece of paper. But pulling this off is not as easy as it looks. It is not uncommon for artists to struggle when attempting to create a convincing sense of depth (or “perspective”) in a drawing. When I was in art school, I knew more than a few art students who wore berets only to cover the bald patches in their scalps that resulted from them pulling their hair out every time they tried to draw something in perspective.

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Artist David Chelsea wrote a book called Perspective! For Comic Book Artists that I’ve found to be helpful. In addition to explaining the concepts of the vanishing point, one-point perspective, two-point perspective, three-point perspective, and foreshortening, the book includes some great “cheat sheets” in the back. Chelsea has gone to the trouble of drawing seven detailed diagrams for artists to use when figuring out the perspective of, say, a series of skyscrapers or the interior of a room. There are two charts each for one-, two-, and three-point perspective, and one chart that shows a series of circles receding into the background. These diagrams alone are worth the price of the book.

Being a busy freelancer with tight deadlines, on more than one occasion I’ve used the diagrams to give me fast and accurate perspective. In my pre-computer days I enlarged each diagram onto an 11×17 sheet of paper and taped it onto my light table, then taped my drawing over the top. Now that I draw digitally, I’ve scanned each diagram into Photoshop and when I need them I just paste them into my drawing, enlarging/cropping them as needed. Then I sketch over them on another layer.

If you do a lot of perspective drawing, especially with crazy camera angles, seven perspective charts may not be enough to cover all your needs. But if you only draw in perspective occasionally, they can be a terrific time saver. You can buy Perspective! for Comic Book Artists at Amazon.com.

Looney Tunes on iTunes

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Classic Looney Tunes animated shorts are now available for download on iTunes, priced at two for $1.99. Right now if you go to the iTunes store and click on “TV Shows”, you’ll see a box in the middle area of the screen that says “Looney Tunes Studio Just Added”. Click on it and you’ll see 60 classic shorts organized by character (Twenty Bugs Bunny, twenty Daffy Duck, and twenty Porky Pig cartoons). You have to buy them in pairs, but at least you can buy them.

If you are a big fan of Looney Tunes, the best and most comprehensive source of cartoon mayhem is the Looney Tunes Golden Collection on DVD. Five volumes have been released so far with each volume containing over fifty cartoons on four discs, plus commentaries, featurettes, and cartoons from the “vault”. (You can buy them from Amazon.com through my Recommended Resources page.)

At $1.99 for two cartoons, the iTunes option is an inexpensive way to build your own custom library of the “greatest hits” of Warner Brothers animation. And unlike a DVD collection, if you own a video iPod or iPhone you can carry them around with you anywhere.

For you youngin’s who might not be familiar with the Bugs Bunny classics, I highly recommend downloading “The Rabbit of Seville/Rabbit Seasoning” combo on the iTunes Bugs Bunny page. Both were directed by Chuck Jones, and they are two of the funniest cartoons Warner Brothers ever produced.

More Art Blogs

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(Illustration by Paul Fricke/Blue Moon Studios. All rights reserved.)

It’s my pleasure to welcome another Minnesota illustrator to the blogosphere! My friend and fellow illustrator Paul Fricke (owner of Blue Moon Studios) has just launched a spanky new version of his website–complete with a daily blog. Paul has been freelancing for over twenty years now. He has a background in comic books (he created the series Trollords and inked several titles for DC comics) and specializes in advertising storyboards. Paul is a multi-talented illustrator with in impressive list of clients including Best Buy, General Mills, Target, Pillsbury, and 3M. On top of that, Paul’s an all-around nice guy. I’ve learned a lot from him. Check out the new Blue Moon Studios website, especially Paul’s new blog.

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(Illustration by Charlie Griak. All rights reserved.)

Another talented artist/blogger from the Twin Cities is Charlie Griak. Charlie’s been illustrating professionally for 8 years and his work is jaw-dropping. His past clients include McDonald’s, Microsoft, CNN and Target. Stop by his website and blog for some great eye-candy. I’ve never plugged his work here before, but a mention is long overdue.

New Blog: North Central Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society

I’ve had the privilege of being a member of the National Cartoonists Society for about five years now. Since I live in Minneapolis I belong to the North Central Chapter. Most of the NCS chapters are centered on the coasts, where you can find a high concentration of cartoonists in a relatively small geographical area. Since this is the midwest, our chapter is quite large geographically. It covers a multi-state area from the Rockies east to the Mississippi River and from the Dakotas southward through Oklahoma.

But there’s plenty of talent to go around.

In addition to a website, our chapter now has a blog thanks to the efforts of chapter member and blogger extraordinaire Tom Richmond. Members will be posting their recent work and commenting about, well, whatever cartoonists talk about. I’m looking forward to taking part when I can.

Lately members have been posting artwork from their latest Christmas cards and promotions. Check out the chapter blog here.